11/5/23 updates

Went over this morning to see what remaining tasks I could knock out before starting the first wing assembly, and to do some planning and figuring stuff out — like, how I was going to jig up the trailing edge and other stuff for the wings. Stu came in and had a fantastic idea for using the existing steel rails on his workbench to hold the TE flat and perfectly straight, then supporting the front of the ribs with the other rail. It’s a 10′ bench with 12′ rails, so plenty big enough. It’s a significantly different method than that suggested in the plans, but it’s a pretty unique setup. I’m sure a 2×4 shimmed for the correct angle is a lot easier solution for most people than adjustable 12′ long steel square tube rails. I’m just glad he had them built out of square tube and not round.

Next I gave the main and rear spars a once-over to make sure everything was right. It wasn’t. One of the upper wing main spar tip bow supports was off by 1/2″, the result of not having the two spars oriented the same way when I installed those parts. Or, maybe it was something else. Those supports have been a real pain in the rump, and I have a sneaking feeling I’ll run into issues there again. Anyway, the easiest fix was to cut the offending tip support off with a razor saw, put a slight angle cut on the root end, and re-attach it with appropriate splices. Right now part of the re-assembly is drying; I’m hoping to complete the assembly tonight after the epoxy cures.

I got the ten ribs that I have over there trimmed fore and aft, so they’re ready for assembly. I’m planning to start with the lower left wing, just for the sake of simplicity. The lower right wing gets the wing walk. The two upper wings may or may not get fuel tanks, so I’ll do the lower wings first while I work that out. Therefore the lower left is the simplest and a good place to start, I think.

Stu and I discussed building the wingtip bows. He’s got a 48″ square table with a melamine top. It’s big enough to lay our two bows. I’ll wax it thoroughly and use a glue roller for gluing up the lamination strips. This will be good practice for the tail surfaces, which will need to wait until after the wings are done as they’ll need a 4 x 8 work surface. Now I just need to order a glue roller and about 40 or 50 more spring clamps. Given the size of the stabilizer & elevator assembly, more is better… I’m pretty sure there is no such thing as too many clamps.

The easy way to manage T-88 epoxy

I’ve seen all kinds of methods people use to mix up their T-88 epoxy. The manufacturer says to mix the resin and hardener (Part A and Part B) 1:1 by volume, or 100:83 by weight – which are the same thing. Plenty of videos on YouTube and EAA Hints for Homebuilders show various methods, and I’ve read some pretty involved threads on various homebuilding message boards. Some squeeze out equal lines of the two parts. Some cut the bottle tips to different sizes and squeeze out for a measured amount of time. Some have built scales to measure out by weight. Some do it in graduated mixing cups, like the little medicine cups that are easy to find. Some just use “TLAR” – or, “That looks about right”. You can buy T-88 in twin dispensing cartridges that automatically dispense and mix the glue — but it’s something like six times the cost of buying it in bottles, and of course you’re going to waste some each time when you throw out the mixing tube.

I have a bit of an aversion to not measuring epoxy accurately, and estimating and hoping for the best didn’t seem to me like a good plan when building an airplane. I know the precise ratio isn’t super critical; even System Three says that. Still, though, why guesstimate or get “close enough” when it’s so easy to get an exact amount?

I bought some 60cc catheter tip syringes through Amazon. They’re cheap and disposable, though I’ve reused mine a number of times. I fill one with Part A and one with Part B, and usually use a permanent marker to mark the cap for the Part B (darker) syringe, just so I don’t accidentally mix the caps up and ruin some epoxy. I’ll fill them just past the 60CC mark, then stand them tips-up overnight to let all the trapped air bubble up to the top, then squeeze a little back into the bottle or jug until the plunger is exactly on the 60cc mark. Pull the plunger back just a bit to get a little air in the tip, and cap it.

By doing this you can very accurately measure both parts to mix up any desired quantity of glue, from 2 cc up to 120 cc. Gluing plywood spar webs to spar caps? I’ll mix up 20 cc at a time, 10cc from each syringe. Building ribs? About 8 or 10 cc of glue will do two wing ribs, so 4 or 5 cc from each syringe. When the syringes are empty, you can either be a cheapskate like me and refill them, or just toss them in the trash if they’re too grungy to re-use or if you’re Daddy Warbucks and don’t care about the cost. I’ve got two pair of syringes that I use, and each has been refilled probably six or eight times. I just ordered some more syringes, since these are getting a little sticky and I want to keep fresh ones on hand. I use them for other things as well, so it’s never a bad idea to have some around. You also don’t want to run out of glue before you’re done building for the day, so I try to always have at least two sets filled.

Note: Pay attention to the quality of the syringes you buy. The first few I bought were made by B-D (Beckton-Dickinson) or Brandzig, are nice heavy duty plastic, are marked with 1 cc graduations, have good caps, and are generally high quality. The next batch I bought are thin, lightweight, shorter, marked with 2 cc lines, and are generally cheap Chinese crap. I’ll toss these after the first use and chalk it up to a lesson learned. As is almost always the case, it’s better to spend a little extra for good quality.

Started on the second spar

This morning I went over to Stu’s and finished gluing the root attach blocks and the blocks for the N strut and flying wire brackets to the spar. Other than the tapered extension for the wing tip bow, that’s all of the wood for the first spar. Once the glue is cured, I can start locating and drilling the holes for the attachment bolts and bushings.

With that done, Stu and I started on the second upper wing spar. The bench has threaded inserts set into the edge, and he’s got a long steel rail that bolts on. It’s 2 x 2 inch square steel tubing with mounting brackets welded on. The rails were designed and built to bolt to the table, then he’s got a steel sled that sits on them that he can use to flatten a large wood slab using a router. We bolted one rail to the edge of the table, overhanging the work surface. Now there’s a long work bench with a straight, level steel rail on one edge.

We glued the groove in the spar cap, inserted the plywood web, then glued the other spar cap. One spar cap is clamped against the rail, then the assembly is clamped in place to hold it straight, flat, and properly spaced at 5-3/4″ total spar height along its entire length.

I think about 10 ml of epoxy is plenty to glue one spar cap groove. I mixed two batches today. I’ve been using 60 ml syringes ordered from Amazon to hold and measure the glue – it works wonderfully. I can very precisely measure out even very small quantities.

A kickstart, I hope

Yesterday (9/16/23) we drove to St. Charles, MO. Normally I wouldn’t do such a thing, but a guy had advertised a Celebrity wing kit and plans on Barnstormers. Apparently the original owner of the kit never had a chance to start building before age took its toll, so I was able to pick up all of the wing parts for less than it would have cost me to buy just the spruce for the spar caps. I’ve really been kind of stalled up until now because I just couldn’t get past the cost of buying the wood from ACS, then paying truck freight go get some oversized but very lightweight pieces of wood shipped here. The total cost of our trip was less than the shipping cost for just the longer spar pieces, and I’ve got all of the pre-cut plywood parts as well. Rib nose pieces, trailing edge stock, aileron ends, spar reinforcements, all of it. I’ve also got a second complete set of plans and documents that I can put up for sale, since they have never been used and I don’t need two.

The other thing that has kept me at a standstill has been the lack of a suitable place to work. My garage has, unfortunately, been occupied for the past few years with a “project” car that I probably never should have bought. My own fault, but is it better to have one project stalled, or two? I had plans at one time to put a sheet of MDF on top of the island in our basement to build the tail surfaces, but that is now part of a very busy sewing room. Zero complaints about that, of course! It just means I can’t work in there.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago I was talking about the airplane with my friend Stu. He’s been building cabinets for the past couple of decades and has a large woodworking shop next to his house. Not only is it well equipped, but it’s also climate controlled and well lit. Quite frankly, it would be the envy of most people who would want to build stuff – certainly myself included.

Stu offered to let me use his shop and help with the build. I doubt he’ll ever want to fly in the finished airplane, but he thinks the idea of building an entire airplane out of wood is pretty cool. I can understand that; I think so too. When we got back from the road trip yesterday we unloaded the crate at Stu’s shop. It was late, so all we did was pop the top off and have a quick look, and grab the Fisher assembly video DVDs that were in there.

I’m pretty pumped, to be honest. This means I’ve now got everything I need to complete all four wings and the horizontal stabilizer & elevator, and a place to do it. I’m hoping to get the last few of the false ribs knocked out this week and lay out the pieces to assemble the main and rear spars.

Generic update

Yeah, it’s been a long time, no updates, and so on. I bought a few more pieces of capstrip from ACS to finish out the last of the false ribs, but honestly the lack of any place to assemble wings or build the tail surfaces — or really any other parts of the plane — has had me less than enthused about getting much done. I’ve got a tall stack of full wing ribs and an almost-as-tall stack of false ribs sitting on a bench on my basement, doing nothing.

From time to time I check Barnstormers to see if another Celebrity pops up for sale. Occasionally one does. The two that really gnaw at me? A gorgeous, Rotec radial powered Kitplanes Magazine article centerfold that was advertised for probably less than the engine would cost me, and one a couple hours’ drive from here with no engine that was listed at about $5K or so. In both cases the timing just was not right (hell having not frozen over quite yet).

Now I’m contemplating a run down to St. Louis. The purchaser of Celebrity serial number CE165 – one later than mine – had apparently never started building, and a crate with the complete wing kit is for sale. The seller is asking a fraction of the cost of a new kit, and it appears to be complete. I did some plotting, and even just ordering the wood for the wing spars – not the entire wings, mind you, just the spars — would cost more than he’s asking plus my gas for the trip, and that’s before I pay LTL freight costs to have it shipped from Aircraft Spruce. Plus it’s a complete wing kit, with all the pre-cut plywood pieces, laminating strips for the wingtip bows, trailing edge pieces, all of the bits that would add cost and time and aggravation to a scratch build. I can’t pass it up. I’d also have a full set of plans that I could sell to help defray a little of the cost.

A friend with a large woodworking shop has offered to let me continue building there in his shop — heated, air conditioned, lots of space, plenty of power tools, and this all feels almost too good to be true. I’ve just got to make a 13-14 hour round trip with a pocket full of cash.

Stay tuned, I guess.

Ready for ribs

Well, the work bench is cleared off — well, at least enough to get both jigs on it.  I’ve got a couple dozen sticks of geodetic brace stock shaved down.  The epoxy syringes are filled.  All I need now is a razor saw and a steam setup.

Yes, I have a razor saw.  Somewhere.  I pulled it out during the kitchen remodel, and I remember seeing it in a box of tools we were using, but now I can’t find it.  It’s a Zona, good quality but inexpensive.  A new one is on the way.  Two, in fact; one medium and one fine tooth.  I also have a steam box that I built for the capstrips, but I’m unsure whether I’ll use it in the basement.  It takes bench space (which I now don’t have down there), and drips water out the end by design.  I’m thinking about ways I can use it vertically.  I had looked at rigging up a piece of pipe or something with a heating element for hot water, but it looked like an awful lot of extra work considering I’m over halfway through the ribs.  I’ll probably need it for the tail and wingtip bows as well, but I’m not entirely sure yet how I’m going to steam 6 to 9 foot long strips of wood.  Tonight I tried soaking half a dozen capstrips in a bucket of hot water for an hour — we’ll see how well that worked. 

Back at it…

Well, I thought it had been a lot longer since I did any construction, but I see it was only back in February.  I really wouldn’t have been surprised to find that I’d gone an entire year without building anything.  But, I’m getting ready for winter and more building.  To be honest, I’d had second thoughts recently about even continuing with this project.  Sometimes it seems like such a massive undertaking, especially when I see pictures of guys attaching the wings and getting flying wires made and rigging done…  only to tear it all apart again and then start covering.  Covering!!  How the hell an I ever going to cover this beast?  But then I decide that maybe I’ll keep at it after all.  Hey, it’s relatively cheap…  so far…  as hobbies go.  It keeps me occupied for as long as I care to work on it, and nothing bad happens if I let it sit idle for a while.  Even a long while. 

Over the past few days I’ve been working on getting my absolute pit of a basement workshop cleaned up at least enough to be able to move around and use the workbench.  A new water softener installation, a kitchen remodel and a few other household projects meant there was a lot of mess left over, and a whole lot lot of crap got just piled everywhere.  Most of it’s cleaned up.  Not enough, really, but at least enough for me to be able to take stock of where I am.  In hindsight, I suppose I could have, you know, looked at my blog posts, but where’s the fun in that?

I need 26 normal wing ribs, and they are all done.  I need 16 aileron ribs — the same as the normal ribs, but just missing a couple of cross pieces.  Of those, I have built ten, so there are six left to build.  Then there are 34 false ribs — just stubs from teh leading edge back to just behind the main spar.  I’ve built one of them, so 33 left to build.  Those should be quicker to build, since there are only about a quarter of the geodetic braces to cut and glue.  Unfortunately, each will still occupy a full rib jig — so two at a time is still the limit.  Unless…  maybe after the aileron ribs are done, I can tear down one of the rib jigs and rebuild it to do several false ribs at a time.  I think keeping one rib jig intact would be good, just in case I should ever need to build more ribs for a repair or whatever. 

I’ve got a bunch of geodetic brace stock sanded down to the correct thickness.  Enough for sure to do the rest of the aileron ribs and get a good start on the false ribs.  I’ll probably do half a dozen more, then put the oscillating sander away and maybe knock out a few ribs.  I’m starting to get a little fired up again. 

Slow progress

I’ve knocked out a few more aileron ribs, two at a time.  I’m about halfway through them and trying to speed things up a little, so I don’t die of old age with a half finished airplane.

Yesterday I decided to use up a piece of obviously bad capstrip Aircraft Spruce saw fit to ship me.  This piece has a large chunk missing out of one edge, part of a knothole or pitch pocket or something.  Part of it is in no way suitable for aircraft use or much else for that matter.  But – there’s enough good wood there to use it for false ribs, so I made one of those.  That went OK, but it’s apparent that I will need to soak the top capstrip in HOT water for the false ribs.

I’m looking forward to starting work on the tail surfaces.  I’m planning to get out to the garage and clear off the workbench this week, lay out the plans and see exactly what I will need to get started.  The wood called out is white pine, so I’ll start checking the local places for suitable pieces of white pine or Douglas fir…  a little heavier, but I know Menard’s sells some good boards from which I can cut suitable pieces for the laminations.

Back at it – more ribs

Got the basement workbench cleared off enough to move rib production indoors.  So far I’m only using one jig, but I’ve knocked out two ribs now.  I need to get the second jig set up.  One rib per day isn’t going to cut it.  Sure is nice working in the basement instead of the garage though.

It’s damn cold outside!

I’ve been wanting to get back to building ribs.  The garage bench has been piled too deep to get anything done, and now it’s been below zero for over a week solid.  Insulation or no, it’s damned cold out in the garage.  Too cold for epoxy to cure, and too cold to work.

So…  there’s a perfectly good work bench down in the basement.  8′ long and rock solid, built by Dad back in the 1960s.  It’s been pretty much completely covered up for the past several years with a collection of parts, partially-disassembled or -assembled prototype projects and assorted debris from the side business I was running, plus a CNC router that took up about 3′ of it.  I have cleared most of it off (much of it into a trash can).  The CNC machine is shelved for now; I’ll maybe resurrect it when needed at a later date.  It will probably come in handy for cutting the instrument panel and/or nose ribs.

The next issue is containers for the geodetic rib braces.  There are 24 braces used in each rib, all of which are of course slightly different.  Just enough so that none are interchangeable.  I was using paper cups to hold them in the garage, but it’s a completely unsatisfactory solution.  In the basement I think I’m going to try stapling taller plastic cups along the back edge of the bench and see how that works.

I’m not moving power tools down there from the garage, so new geodetics will be cut with a razor saw.  We’ll see how that works out…  it’s one of those jobs I wish I could set up a machine or fixture to do.  It’s 24 different lengths with over 40 different angle cuts, so I’m not sure how I’d make that work.  Even cutting them out in batches on the band saw meant fine-tuning each one with a sanding block before assembly.  It’s fiddly work and tedious as hell.  Classic gusseted ribs would be a whole lot faster and easier to build.  If I were starting this over I’d probably just depart from the plans and build them all that way; I’d probably have them all done by now.